2016 is here, and it’s time for the year’s first Roundtable! We kick off the year the same way he have for the past 11 years: playing Sega games! This month’s selection includes some great variety, so read the entries and check out some of these great titles!
Ninja Gaiden By Ken Horowitz
I love the Ninja Gaiden games on the NES, as well as the Tecmo arcade classic (my first experience with the series). I was very pleased to see that there was a title for the Game Gear and quickly snapped up a copy. After beating it, I can honestly say that I found it to be a competent action title that tried to deliver the sweet ninja action I was looking for, but its short length left me wanting more. A scant four stages makes it go by far too quickly, though the final boss maintains the timeless Ninja Gaiden tradition of fighting multi-form final bosses on a single life bar. It’s not a bad game to play if you can find it cheap, which you will if you only want a loose copy. It’s over far too soon and never really has time to get the juices flowing. I’ll have to try the Master System version next, since it’s a completely different game.
Shin Megami Tensei (Mega CD) By Sebastian Sponsel
Around Christmas, I decided to dip my toes into an untranslated JRPG, just to see where it would take me. I had heard of the Shin Megami Tensei series before, but I never got around actually playing any of the games, not even the more recent Persona spin-offs. But an IP that has brought it to up to 40 different games in its portfolio – most of them RPGs, no less – does seem intriguing. So, when a Shin Megami Tensei CD fell into my hands and a quick search brought up a translation walkthrough, I figured I might give it a try. So I gave it a little spin…
Next thing I knew, I had spent several hours with it, basically playing two games in tandem (with a ROM-translated Super Nintendo version running on an emulator at the same time), switching back and forth between these two instances, going “what the hell…?” every once in a while. Yes, I admit it; the game got me hooked. I don’t want to spoil too much, but let me tell you that I highly appreciate any game that manages to genuinely surprise me, and some of the plot twists that game threw at me were so gut-wrenching…
Anyway, it’s a dirty shame that this game was never officially translated. Oh and by the way, having the Mega CD version running alongside a translated SNES ROM helped my a lot with playing the latter as well. Because let me tell you, that versions overworld map (as well as the dungeon graphics) remind me of a lamprey. By which I mean, they suck.
Dragon Crystal (Game Gear) By Vince Thornburg
When you come across a bundle of games for a system you really have no knowledge of, you’re more willing to just take it as a blind buy. It’s easier when a game called Dragon Crystal pops up on top. I knew I’d heard the title before, but hell if I could remember a damn thing about it, so I grabbed it, even with the dog bites on the cart, and took it home.
I pull out my Game Gear and try to play it… and realize my screen has died. Good timing. So I just say hell with it and emulate Dragon Crystal instead. Not the exact same experience, but I’ve come this far. I see our hero walk then jump into a crystal ball, and put on brown armor, kind of like that guy from Fatal Labyrinth… but you see that can’t be true… I have not-so-fond memories of Fatal Labyrinth from 9-10 years ago where I gave it a scathing review and quickly dismissed it. This can’t just be the same game…
Nope, it’s not; it’s actually better. Before I realize what’s going on I’m at level 10. I’m actually having fun with a game I once despised. It’s the same controls. Same difficulty. Same item system. But now I’ve matured (a little) and have 10 more years of gaming under my belt. NOW I’m actually really enjoying this. Trykaar is providing a much more fun adventure!
Dragon Crystal actually feels like a better-presented game. The walls automatically change when you touch them, since you’re one button less, and they actually have variety on multiple floors. It’s not just the same bland brick walls. Now there are Easter Island heads, or sun flowers, or pine trees. This variety is going a long way.
I think I need to officially give Fatal Labyrinth a complete replay.
Lotus II By Adam Holt
Recently, I found myself with a hankering for some Genesis racing action. Looking over my collection, I considered several titles before deciding on Lotus II, which was ported from the Amiga. The Lotus and Test Drive series of games were some of my favorite racers growing up because a good friend of my father had a Commodore and an Amiga computer with a slew of racing games. Whenever my family would visit him, I would spend the vast duration of the time parked in front of his monitor playing these games. So naturally, when I came across one of the Lotus games for my Genesis, I quickly snatched it up. And while this game is not quite up to the standard of its original incarnation on the Amiga (Lotus III), it is still a solid port which offers a very fun gaming experience.
As a 16-bit racer, the game offers everything you would expect. There are three actual Lotus cars to choose from, the first is the fastest, but has the worst handling, the third is the slowest, but handles the best and the second’s attributes lie between those of the other two. Even so, while driving in game the difference in feel between the cars is minimal, at least to me. Each of the tracks are varied in landscape from an open plain to a forest, from a desert to a snowy region, they manage to cover the expected bases. Aside from racing on a paved road in standard weather, there are also dirt and grassy tracks with heavy winds, rains and snow, all of which can affect the handling of the car. There is enough variety here to make playing through each new track exciting and different. It never feels monotonous as some racers tend to become.
While there are two different racing modes, I found that I preferred the timed to the racing simulation. The timed mode is more arcade-style in that you must get to each checkpoint before the time runs out, and the more time that you have left at the race’s end, the more points you receive and the more bonus time you’ll have when you start the next race. The racing simulation mode is largely the same, but there is no timer and your car is ranked among the others as you try to finish each race in first place. It is also possible to run out of fuel in this mode, so the occasional pit stop is necessary (I ran out of gas). Anyway, seeing as I spent nearly the entire session in the timed mode, only one race in the simulation, I can’t really comment on any of the different nuances that the simulation mode may offer beyond that.
There are seven different tracks that you race through in the timed mode for each level of the game, and the tracks are each of varying difficulty and length. The car handles fairly tightly depending on the track conditions, and even if you do lose control a bit and crash, it only slows your car down a bit. You don’t have to worry about an OutRun-esque airborne flip and crash here. The game also features a track building mode, but I did not fuss with it. Besides, you can’t actually build your own tracks in the Excitebike sense, you just adjust a set of track options and the game generates a track for you, similar to the “reticulating splines” map generator in the original Sim City games.
While the racing is a lot of fun in this game, what really pushes it up a level is the quality of the music. There are four songs and you have the option to choose which one you want at the beginning of each race on your radio, just like in OutRun. Each of the songs are excellent in their own way, and they really make the racing action feel that much more exciting. There is also an option to race without any music and only with sound effects, and while the sound effects are not bad, I only ran one race this way; the music is just so much better. There is no option to listen to both music and sound effects simultaneously. It would be great if they could have included a couple more songs, but four more than some games of the era offered, so I can’t really complain.
Overall, Lotus II is not exactly one of the best racing games of the 16-bit generation, but it is better than most and offers a fun arcade-like racing experience. It doesn’t have serious depth, but for an arcade-style racer, there is enough variety to keep you interested for a long play session here and there. As I sat in my favorite chair with the stereo cranking out those glorious 16-bit MIDI tunes, it was a blast weaving my way through the different tracks, and I won’t hesitate to fire it back up in the future.
Outlander By David Dyne
All this month I’ve been watching Roger Corman’s post-nuke collection of films such as Wheels of Fire, The Sisterhood, Equalizer 2000, and Dune Warriors. Helmed by action director Cirio H. Santiago, these flicks are simple fun and entertainment back when movies weren’t taking themselves too seriously. What better way to cap off all these films? Play Outlander on the Genesis, that’s how. Like the above flicks, Outlander is a variation of the Road Warrior and Mad Max formula which has you roaming the wastelands by car and on foot, taking out biker scum and other dirt bags from town to town as you head to your final objective to confront the big bad guy.
There’s nothing better than lining up a small group of slime balls and hosing them down with your car’s machine guns or slamming on the breaks when somebody is tailgating you and watching their body go flying over your windshield. Is some punk riding alongside your car trying to box you in? Send him on his way with a shotgun blast to the face. Another great feature is being able to stop anywhere on the roads between towns to search for supplies that will replenish your health and inventory items and hopefully fill up your gas tank so you can continue driving.
Like these movies, Outlander is a guilty pleasure that allows you to live out your own Road Warrior fantasy of bringing justice to the lawless wastelands.